Every Environmental Engineer Should Know About This Simple, Yet Highly Effective, technology

State environmental departments are now requiring remote telemetry devices on vapor intrusion and radon mitigation systems

As awareness of indoor air pollution has grown, people have pushed state health departments to implement regulations requiring that sites with subsurface VOC plumes in soil and groundwater install vapor intrusion (VI) mitigation systems (sub-slab depressurization systems) and continually confirm that those systems are functioning. To do this, responsible parties must contract for routine check-ups or install a remote telemetry device.

In Massachusetts, the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) passed regulations that define the minimum requirements for VI systems. The regulations now require that remote monitoring technology (telemetry) be implemented to provide immediate notifications if a mitigation system loses power or encounters other significant disruptions in the vacuum effectiveness (MassDEP Requirements). Other states, including Michigan, New Jersey, and California, are also considering adoption of similar types of regulations.

VaporTrac, a remote monitoring device for vapor intrusion/radon mitigation systems, was designed to meet these requirements and is one of the few devices that has been approved by MassDEP.

Telemetry has evolved from manually faxing data to internet-connected pressure gauges

When vapor intrusion became a known risk in the mid-1980s, environmental engineers used hand-held instruments to determine whether vapor intrusion (VI) or radon mitigation systems were operating effectively. In the late 1980s, the fax machine emerged as the “state-of-the-art” technology in communicating remediation system data. The limitations of the technology showed as the ability to transmit data was delayed and required hands-on personnel to transmit data to responsible parties.

Then, in the 1990s, as more companies were using personal computers, telemetry systems used the phone system to dial-in to dedicated computers and slowly transfer the data about the remediation systems. These early telemetry systems were not widely used as they were expensive, prone to data errors, and had a high rate of hardware failure.

When involving potential health risks associated with the intrusion of chemicals, including carcinogens as well as radon, being able to quickly, and easily access that information is paramount. Thankfully, mitigation technology has progressed, and we can now take full advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT) approach to data communication, and provide real-time system telemetry data via WiFi and cellular networks.

Remote telemetry is a smart investment to avoid potential losses

Mitigating vapor intrusion can be an expensive, prolonged and complicated process. Additionally, many of the companies that caused the contamination are either no longer in business, no longer own the property, or may feel that they are not responsible. Because of these issues, many VOC clean ups are reliant on government-led cleanups and government funds. The funds historically allocated for site contamination within the US EPA have seen significant scale-backs, which has impacted small local clean-ups as well as large federal Superfund sites.

But the potential negative repercussions from doing nothing can be even more painful. Negative results may include lawsuits, increased insurance costs, cancellation of insurance policies, consumer boycotting, and bad press resulting in loss of revenues.

Companies that are required to mitigate a vapor intrusion problem are going to be looking for approaches that are technologically effective and can meet the regulatory requirements of reducing contaminants to “acceptable” levels in the indoor spaces, but they are also going to be looking for cost-effective solutions. Vapor barriers and sub-slab depressurization systems (SSDSs) are expensive but can be made even more so if they are not installed correctly or do not meet the regulatory or health objectives.

Once the SSDS is installed, the owner is still responsible for proving that the system continues to operate within the design parameters. Affected employees may ask, “What happens if the system goes down…could we be exposed to harmful vapors?” Determining if a mitigation system is doing what it was designed to do is important and may require subsequent VI assessments and analyses.

Knowing if a system is functioning is invaluable for peace of mind

The owner of the system can retain the services of technicians to conduct routine system checks on blower operations and vacuum pressure. These checks can be conducted weekly or monthly, but unfortunately, a system can go offline at any time, resulting in the possibility that vapors will again migrate into the occupied areas. And once the system goes down, the maintenance company would need to dispatch a technician to troubleshoot the system, when in fact the problem could be as simple as an unplugged blower.

Installing VaporTrac units to run in conjunction with the SSDS allows the owner/operator the peace of mind that the system is running continuously. The VaporTrac units provide system data (vacuum) via telemetry to VaporTrac’s cloud-based database which can be easily accessed by the owner/operator on a 24/7 basis to confirm that the system is not only running, but is drawing a vacuum that meets the regulatory requirements.

As more people become aware of the potential harmful effects to human health of vapor intrusion, finding mitigation solutions that are both technically and financially effective are critical. Remote telemetry, such as VaporTrac, when coupled with active VI mitigation systems is a cost effective solution that can confirm that the systems are operating at any given time, and can provide the owner/operator with peace of mind in knowing that the harmful vapors are being removed.

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